Portraying life: This work is called Corner of a Café-Concert

COLUMN: How to be a virtual sponge

The new collaboration between the Capitol and Civic Theatres opens up a cultural world for us to enjoy here at home.

I was at the National Gallery in London a few years ago. I stood in the middle of a room full of Impressionist paintings and let the works wash over me, thinking: this isn’t an image in a book. This really is a Degas, a Renoir.

I had been beetling along behind my friend Margaret — the energizer bunny of galleries and museums — for a few days, and I was a little tired. So I sat, and made like a sponge. If I squeeze just a little now, it’s all there again: the presence, the colour, the lives of the great artists as felt in that room in London.

It’s a bit of a trek to get to London, but it’s not such a trek to get to your local cinema, where you can enjoy the virtual cultural experience on the big screen. On Wednesday, September 24 at 7 p.m. the Civic offers Manet: Portraying Life, larger than life on the screen and ready for sponge-like absorption in the next-best way.

The new collaboration between the Capitol and Civic Theatres opens up a cultural world for us to enjoy here at home.

The Capitol, true to their raison d’être, focuses on great performances — Carmen, by the Royal Opera House, is up first on October 22 — while at the Civic, the menu includes a little drama (The Tempest; La Traviata), a little music (Peter Gabriel; Freddy Mercury) and a little art. Enter Manet, and in January, Vermeer through the Arts Alliance project Exhibition on Screen.

Edouard Manet, encouraged by an uncle (his father wanted him to be a lawyer), absorbed old masters in the Louvre with a keener eye than I absorbed Manet’s Corner of a Café-Concert in the National Gallery 160 years later.

His studies evolved into what critics at the time considered an upstart style, and Manet, a 25-year-old youngster when he opened his first studio, turned the art world on its ear by painting people he saw in cafes or on corners rather than religious themes.

He brought brilliance down to street level and was a key part of the movement that would become Impressionism.

Corner of a Café-Concert could be any of our favourite watering holes: a barmaid serves patrons mugs of what here would have to be NBC, of course. Art reflects life, no matter what your era.

Exhibition on Screen’s Manet: Portraying Life celebrates the artist’s portraiture and his portrayal of people and Parisian society in general. The film covers a unique retrospective at the Royal Academy of Arts that brought together works from Europe, Asia, and the US.

Bring your inner sponge and go behind the scenes to learn about the artist’s life and the works themselves. Great as it would be to see these works in person, the film offers in-depth background and subsequently greater scope for appreciation than I got playing a sea creature that day on a padded bench in a London gallery.

I seem to remember coming to suddenly, realizing Margaret had moved on and squelching my way to the next knock-you-over display of paintings-I’d-only-ever-seen-in-books to absorb as much as I could before day’s end. It’s not an experience I’ll forget any time soon, and yet the mind’s colours do fade with time.

Thanks to the Live Performances on Screen collaboration between the Civic and the Capitol I get to rekindle those colours without that bone-crushing cheap charter flight across the pond, and learn a whole lot more to boot.

The popcorn is a bonus.

— Anne DeGrace is the past president of the Nelson Civic Theatre Society. To find out about the Great Performances series and other events go to civictheatre.ca.

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